Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has rejected the form of a proposed constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling in Arkansas.
I wrote earlier this week that a committee, Arkansas Wins, had been formed to authorize casinos in Boone, Washington and Miller Counties, with backers including some Missouri investors who participated in a failed effort to get a casino amendment on the 2012 ballot. The only casinos authorized in Arkansas currently operate at racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis.
Rutledge said in her opinion — as she often does — that there were ambiguities in the text and a lack of a compete description in the ballot title.
The amendment calls for each casino to be operated by an LLC, presumably to be controlled by those putting the amendment on the ballot. It would establish a regulatory commission and dedicate 18 percent of net gambling revenues — excess over payout to gamblers — to general revenue and specify that all other traditional forms of taxation on for-profit businesses would apply. It would allow around-the-clock alcohol sales in each casino.
The opinion faulted the definition of casino gaming and said it was unclear what was meant by saying any games legal in Nevada and several other states with casinos would mean when applied to Arkansas. Would a device have to be legal in all states, or only one, Rutledge asked. She also wondered if the definition could apply to games operated by Indian casinos in those states.
The amendment is unclear on authority granted to the legislature versus that granted the regulatory commission the opinion said.
If approved as to form, backers can gather signatures to put the measure on the ballot, but have only two months to gather more than 85,000 signatures to reach the November ballot. Such campaigns typically rely on paid canvassers and opponents of ballot measures scour petitions for flaws in the canvassing process. Existing casinos have traditionally resisted other gambling expansion ideas in the state.
UPDATE: Robert Coon of Impact Management, a consulting firm working for the casino amendment backers, issued this statement:
“Arkansas Wins in 2016 is committed to putting this issue before the voters. We believe that passage of the Amendment will be a catalyst for economic development, job creation, tourism, and increased tax revenues for the state and for surrounding communities. The Committee will work diligently to address points that require clarification in accordance with the Attorney General’s letter and plan to resubmit the proposal promptly with the necessary revisions. Subsequently, we look forward to receiving the Attorney General’s certification and beginning the signature gathering process to put this issue before the Arkansas voters this November.”